Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Eli Is Going To Be Rich

Eli received a reply to his 419 letter from Ken Johnson of the Monterey Bay Aquarium  Research Institute.  According to Dr. Johnson, the sharks are gathering to pursue the Wendy Davis X Prize for Oceanic pH,  Rumor has it that there are twenty teams formed already, so Judith Curry will have lots of data to estimate uncertainty.

Dr. Johnson sent along a little note that Eli can pass on that talks about the why of the X Prize and was a response to a journalist's inquity

2) The accuracy of the measurements of acidification is not good enough, so that X -Price has announced a high prize money for a better gauge. How large are the uncertainties of the measurements? How well can the level of pH be tracked?

The pH of seawater can be measured exceptionally accurately using laboratory measurements.  Perhaps better than 0.001 pH, which is a capability unparalleled in any other area of science (and thanks to the pioneering work of Bob Byrne).  It is good enough to detect the expected rate of acidification, which is about -0.002 pH/year.  But this requires repeated sampling by ships, a process that doesn't scale to large areas of the ocean (you need an island with a university to sustain open ocean measurements.  Not too many of those).  So we only have a few (perhaps fewer than a dozen) sites in the ocean with long-term, high quality pH measurements. These sites show a quite consistent pattern of acidification.

The X-Prize is really focused on extending this laboratory capability into the environment by challenging the community to make sensors that can be deployed on moorings, profiling floats, gliders etc., and which have that same high precision found in the laboratory.   But without requiring a ship and scientists to be present.  There are for example, few long-term records of pH on coral reefs and, given the potential impacts, one would like to know how pH is really changing in those environments.  Perhaps something is happening to mitigate change in such areas, or perhaps something is happening to make acidification worse in those areas.  We really need more, very high quality pH records to answer such questions and that will require the sensors that the X-Prize is trying to develop.

The real question is not whether acidification is occurring.  The simple chemistry of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere and that gas dissolving in seawater make this an inescapable result.  The real question is whether the rate is amplified or mitigated in various areas.  Overall, the pH of the ocean must be going down and we really should track the variability in that.  A possible amplification might be increasing winds that bring deep water with more CO2 to the surface, increasing the rate of pH decrease. This is not directly due to CO2 dissolving in the water, but would be due to more CO2 in the atmosphere changing the heat balance of the earth and overall wind patterns.  There are also clearly documented increased in wind speed in the Southern Ocean that are explained by the Southern Hemisphere ozone hole.  A completely unexpected, possible amplification of acidification rates.


Hank Roberts said...

> sensors that can be deployed on moorings, profiling floats, gliders etc.

This "etc." should include elephant seals and whales, which are already carrying other instruments, no?

EliRabett said...

The IRB clearances break Eli's brains.